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On The Moon
Text: Tyler Jacobson | Photos: Mike Richmond

Luna has no fans. For years, they have been underrated by the general public. The same public who showers bands like Limp Bizkit, N'Sync and Dave Matthews with praise. Then there's the rest of us who can do without shit rock, boy bands or pseudo-world beat mediocrity. People who can cite the Velvet Underground as an influence on their musical tastes and have actually heard the Velvet Underground. And for us, there is Luna. Sweet melodies put to lyrics of loss, change, obsession and mental disorders. Luna has a strong, devout following all around the world, and although the general public may be unaware of their presence, Luna has no problems filling a venue or selling records. Luna has no fans, they have Luna-tics.

As I enter the Fox theater in Boulder, one look on the faces of those around me says it all. The anticipation of seeing Luna play again is keeping the crowd in a an upbeat mood. It's almost like you know the people you're surrounded by because you know they like Luna and that, in turn, says something about that person. "It is highly unlikely.", says, Luna front man, Dean Wareham, "It is hard to keep doing (music) for that long and keep people interested for that long. Luckily, I managed to do it... without getting rich." Wareham started out in 1987 with another underrated band, Galaxie 500 (named after a Ford model made from 1962 - 1969). After they disbanded in 1991, Dean recruited bassist Justin Harwood (formerly of The Chills), drummer Stanley Demeski (formerly of The Feelies). In 1992, Luna released Lunapark and added unknown guitarist Sean Eden to the lineup. They soon followed Lunapark up with their cornerstone album, Bewitched in 1994.

The band itself is probably tired of the comparison, but the best way to describe Luna's music is to say that they are the Velvet Underground for a new generation. The simple guitar, bass, and drums compositions weave a complicated web of storytelling lyrics, abstract sounds and sugary melodies that somehow combine to make beautiful music. Not mountain top view beautiful, but more like you've just recovered from a drinking binge and the mid-afternoon sun has just crept through your window beautiful. Part of that sound was molded in the early days of Luna when the late VU guitarist, Sterling Morrison, played guitar on a couple tracks. This led to an opening gig on the short-lived Velvet Underground reunion tour.

As Luna takes the stage, after an incredible set by local talent, Space Team Electra, they are straight faced, as they usually are on stage. Dean gives a quick smile before launching into Chinatown, from 1995's Penthouse. The crowd is instantly drawn in and remains with Luna on their ride until the closing number, Indian Summer. One noticeable change is the absence of bassist Justin Harwood and the presence of Britta Phillips. A few days after the show, Luna announced on their web site that Justin has left the band to spend time with his wife and new baby.

Britta Phillips isn't the only new member of the band. Lee Wall replaced Stanley Demeski on drums before Luna recorded their 4th album, 1996's Pup Tent. With his entrance, Wall also brought in a new sense of energy that's apparent on songs like "IHOP" and "Whispers". Though Harwood was missing, Phillips seemed to flawlessly work her way through some of Luna's most difficult bass lines.

Back stage, Sean is desperately looking for a woman to go drinking with him, while Lee visits with a friend. Dean is slouching in a chair, looking tired while Britta allows herself to be pelted with questions. "I'd never listened to these guys before I was asked to play with them.", says Phillips, "I guess I should have. They're a good band."

Indeed. Luna is a good band. Luna writes good songs. The simplistic song writing lacks the hooks that are fixtures on top 40 radio, but it would seem that Luna focuses on an entire song. Rather than having a grand intro, a bland verse, a catchy chorus and a few more bland verses, Luna demonstrates strong song writing ability time and again. The entirety of 1995's Penthouse is built on layer upon layer of confident playing and lyricsism. And although the chart-topping song has been elusive (if it was ever pursued to begin with), the one hit wonder moniker has also eluded them.

Music 101: For a band to have saying power, the band must be multi-dimensional. This is why indie bands continue to make and sell albums. Music should be about more than your sense of hearing. It should be about your sense of touch and sense of emotion. Dean Wareham seems to understand that. His lyrics are sarcastic without being patronizing and emoting without being pouty.

Songs like California (all the way), from 1994's Bewitched, not only tell the story of love turned to indifference, but it also hits on the subject of a defeating attitude. "Why can't we smile like we used to?/ Why don't you figure anymore?/ Why has my sympathy now turned to malice?/ It doesn't matter anymore." Wareham is careful to avoid adding morals to his stories of woe. His writing is more like peaking in on someone during a moment of crisis.

"The stories in my songs aren't all about me.", says Wareham, "Sometimes they're about me. Well, I'm sure they're all about me, just not directly. Dear Diary (from 1999's Days of Our Nights) is about a stalker, kind of.

When asked to sight the lyricists he admires most, Dean seems to choose his words carefully. There's a slight pause before he speaks. "Of the current crop, I really like Stephen from Pavement.... And I like Beck, a lot. They're both people that really, I guess, just chop things up and express themselves in interesting ways. 'Cos they don't suck. Because most lyricists are awful, usually. Like I'll hear a song and say 'Oh, this sounds cool' and then they open their mouth and it like 'Uuggh'."

This best explains Dean Wareham's lyrics and Luna's music. Are the lyrics good and is the music good? Every word recorded onto a Luna album, every pluck of a string, every tap on a ride cymbal has been scrutinized. Luna makes it look easy but you can bet that they are meticulous when it comes to the studio. What is put on to an album is Luna at their finest each time.

Tyler Jacobson

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